Imagine being sick with a disease like chicken pox or hepatitis, and while you’re sick you decide to go the the doctor to see what can be done. After running some tests, the doctor confirms you have the disease and prescribes medicine or a course of therapy to treat it. But instead of following the doctors recommendations, you stop them and say, “Doc, you know what? Could you skip all that and just give me the hepatitis vaccine.” You already have the disease, what good is the vaccine going to do?

It may sound absurd but this is something we deal with everyday in a dental practice. Periodontal disease is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects almost half of the adult population, according to a 2012 study quoted by the CDC. Yet I can’t tell you how many times we diagnose periodontal disease, and after informing the patient of treatment options, the patient stops us and says, “Can’t I just get a cleaning?” Unfortunately, no you can’t.

Your regularly scheduled cleaning, or prophylaxis if you’re feeling geeky, is a preventative treatment. Think of it like a vaccine. You come in every 6 months so we can keep an eye on the condition of your teeth and gums with the goal of preventing periodontal disease.

But if you already have periodontal disease, a cleaning won’t do you any good just like a polio vaccine won’t help you if you’re limping because you already have polio!

Just so you are aware, periodontal disease isn’t just a diagnosis we give out willy nilly. There are common red flags that can be detected in x-rays and during the course of the exam. Things such as bleeding, bone loss, and gum recession are all indicators of periodontal disease. To go one step further, when we are billing a periodontal treatment to a dental insurance, we are required to submit proof in the form of pictures, x-rays, and periodontal charting for the insurance to verify. The upside is, if detected early, the progression of the disease can be stopped with proper treatments such as scaling and root planing and periodontal maintenance.

Stages of Periodontal Disease

Another popular question we get is, “If I get the scaling and root planing, can I go back to a regular cleaning?” Unfortunately, in most cases, the answer is still “No”. Once you are diagnosed with having periodontal disease, the chances of it returning or progressing are higher which is why Periodontal Maintenance is recommended every 3-4 months. Think of it like having diabetes. If detected early, sugar levels can be controlled with proper diet, but you’ll constantly need to monitor your glucose levels because you’re at a higher risk for developing diabetes moving forward.

So if a dentist recommends a periodontal treatment at your next visit, understand that you may have a serious disease and that it is ok to ask questions. Preventing or stopping periodontal disease has many positive effects on your overall health including lowering risk for heart disease, diabetes, premature birth, osteoporosis, and many other conditions.